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Key Takeaways from Day Two at WASTECON 2018

Day two of WASTECON, the Solid Waste Association of North America’s biggest event, featured a range of education sessions and keynote panels.

Day two of WASTECON, the Solid Waste Association of North America’s (SWANA) biggest event, taking place in Nashville, was filled with education sessions and keynote panels that covered the topics of safety, the changing market for recyclable materials, technology, definitions of recycling, workforce trends and much more. The second day of the conference concluded with a networking event at Jason Aldean's Kitchen + Rooftop Bar.

Here are some highlights from the show on Wednesday:

  • SWANA honored the recipients of its 2018 Excellence Awards during an awards ceremony. “The recipients of the SWANA Excellence Awards represent the best solid waste management practices in North America today,” said David Biderman, executive director and CEO of SWANA, in a statement. “Community leaders should be very proud of the valuable contributions that these projects provide to their citizens.”
  • SWANA also honored the recipients of its Safety Awards. “SWANA’s Safety Awards program highlights top companies, agencies and facilities who have made excellence in safety attainable through creative strategies and overall commitment,” added Biderman. “We hope that the best practices adopted by the SWANA Safety Award winners are considered as models by others in both the United States and Canada as we work toward our goal of creating a safer working environment for the solid waste and recycling industry.”
  • Michael E. Hoffman of Stifel commented on the state of the industry, stating: “In case no one has been listening, garbage is really good. Yes labor, fuel and freight are issues but manageable in a core price environment that is 4 percent to 6 percent. From the tradeshow floor, volume growth remains robust and garbage truck buyers can't get meaningful (one offs sure) deliveries before February/March 2019. Recycling is a concern but less of a public company burden. Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt is bullish about the company, the solid waste outlook and sanguine about fixing recycling anytime soon.”
  • Providing an update on recycling, Hoffman added: “Consistently, the dialog is shifting from will price recover and/or will China ease the 0.5 percent contamination standard to what do we do now? Overall, more technology is coming into the materials recovery facility (MRF) to help improve the sort without using labor and be able to pick up line speeds. Commercial recycling has been repriced to reflect processing costs that are $120 to $165 per ton and contamination charges are possible, too. Residential recycling remains the outlier, but service companies are being aggressive and even discussing ‘force majeure’ with contracts being terminated or renegotiated to begin to reflect the new reality. Consistently, the solid waste market believes it needs more domestic demand for recovered fiber to eliminate the need to export. Contamination on the residential side at 25 percent or worse either has to improve or the customer has to pay for it. Most companies are cynical about the residential customer lowering contamination levels much.”
  • During SWANA’s MRF Summit session entitled “The Changing Market for Recyclable Materials,” panelists David Biderman, executive director and CEO, SWANA; Robin Wiener, president, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI); and Stephen Sikra, associate director of corporate research and development, Procter & Gamble, discussed new policies in place in China and how these policies are affecting the present and future of recycling.
  • During the panel, Wiener noted three key elements to remember: Recycling is bigger than the bin, recycling is demand driven and the scrap industry is a global industry that long pre-dates China. “The U.S. and China are the key players in the market and they have been for many years,” she explained. “The U.S. is a significant part of the chain because we are the largest exporter in the world. There is a surplus of scrap in the U.S. About 30 to 40 percent is shipped to other countries worldwide, but China is by far our largest customer, and it has been for more than 20 years." Wiener added that China is the trigger that exposed a lot of the weaknesses in the recycling systems, but it is not the only trigger. She pointed to the U.S. trade war with China and U.S. tariffs on steel imports from Turkey. “We are seeing impacts on Southeast Asia markets to compensate for what’s happening in China, so we’re reaching capacity in those markets,” she said. “The bottom line is we all need to work together. There isn’t one fix that’s going to return us to where we were. China is not coming back. We need to strengthen markets here and overseas.”
  • Biderman noted that the past 12 months have been challenging for recycling operations, scrap yards and local governments. He said that the National Sword and subsequent actions with China imposed more restrictions from other Asian markets. He stressed the importance of working together to address these challenges. He also discussed the fact that the cycle is confusing for majority of the public. “People don’t know exactly which bin things are supposed to go to,” explained Biderman. “Most Americans don’t know that greasy pizza boxes are supposed to go in the trash and not recycling … There are many wishful recyclers who place plastic bags, hoses and dirty diapers into the blue bin. The result, as we know, is contamination.” Biderman added that the widespread use of single stream increased confusion and contamination rates, which are often reported in the 20 to 25 percent rate. “Unfortunately, what single stream did not lead to was an increase in consistent education and outreach to correct the aspirations of wishful recyclers,” he said.
  • During that same panel discussion, Sikra explained Procter & Gamble has set long-term sustainability commitments and goals to reduce its carbon footprint. The company is working toward getting to 100 percent recycled materials, and its plants are run by renewable energy. It's also working to keep all its materials out of the landfill and to provide its consumers with sustainable solutions. The company’s goals for 2020 include reducing packaging by 20 percent, striving for 90 percent recyclable packaging and piloting programs in already developed and developing regions to help eliminate landfill dumping.
  • WASTECON 2018’s Lawrence Lecturer Michael Cahill, a partner at Germano & Cahill, P.C. of Holbrook, N.Y., summarized the transformation of solid waste management from the Garbage Barge of 1987 through today’s times, with observations on government, politics, regulators, technology, engineers, environmental activists, investment bankers, organized crime, the carting industry and the United States Supreme Court. Cahill spoke about his times representing municipalities and public agencies in matters involving environmental issues, public contracts, construction disputes and particularly solid waste management for more than 20 years. Cahill also said he represented municipalities in lawsuits involving the power of local government to regulate solid waste services through “flow control” against challenges under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In 2007, he argued on behalf of the respondents before the U.S. Supreme Court in United Haulers Association versus Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority. SWANA’s Lawrence Lecturer award is given to an individual recognized as a national/international leader and expert in solid waste management or another segment of environmental protection.
  • During WASTECON’s “A Common Language for Recyclable Materials—ISRI Scrap Specifications” summit, stakeholders in the recycling chain clarified their own definitions of recycling. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI) has maintained a specifications circular for metals, paper, plastics, glass, electronics, tires/rubber and other recyclable materials. These guidelines have served as a common language for the purchase and sale of recycled material all over the world. Recently, ISRI has been working with other institutions to create similar guidelines for inbound curbside recyclables at MRFs.
  • During the discussion, panelist Randy Goodman, executive vice president of Greenland America, explained he has always been an advocate for free and fair trade, but due to the recent tariffs and trade war, he notices a lot of disagreement between what is free and what is fair in a lot of countries. According to ISRI’s internationally recognized guidelines used by buyers and sellers of recycled materials and products, common terms are: Nonferrous and ferrous scrap, paper stock, plastic, electronics, glass cullet and tire scrap.
  • Fellow panelist, Lisa Skumatz, principal at Skumatz Economic Research Associates, Inc., noted that single stream recycling “does not equal the devil,” adding that single stream MRFs could clean up single stream to specifications. Here are some takeaways she offered: China gave time—we wasted it; punish dirty bales even in a tight market; and definitions matter and have consequences. Mean them. Use them.
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